Presidents’s Blog July 2014

President’s Blog July 2014

It’s been a strange kind of month. When writing this I had hoped to be musing merrily on the Jean Armour Supper and other events of Howff significance. Unfortunately I could not make the supper due to a sudden illness which also almost scuppered my attendance at my daughter’s wedding held a few days prior to the supper. Many thanks to Callum Watson for standing in at such close notice and from all accounts a good night was had by all. Apart from a week resting up in the highlands and islands (highly recommended) and an incident with an exploding power shower at Airth Castle that almost took my head off, I am pleased to report that I am now firing on all three cylinders!!

Before all this kicked off, my wife and I had the pleasure of attending the Guid Nyburris celebrations where we enjoyed a bird’s eye view of the proceedings in weather more associated with the Bahamas than Bonnie Galloway. The ceremony went smoothly and we retired to the Municipal Chambers along with other guests and dignitaries to a rather nice buffet lunch.

Wauchope Cairn
A place of pilgrimage for Burnsians, especially those who stay near the ‘people’s republic of Hawick’, the Cairn marks the site of the home of Mrs Elizabeth Scott an ardent admirer and correspondent of Burns. Even using 21st Century transport it’s a remote spot which must have been even remoter in Burns’ day. After wreath-laying, a moving tribute was paid by the inimitable David Scott from Duns and the company retired to the Hawick Burns Club. Our party was made to feel most welcome and we were treated to a sumptuous buffet and superb entertainment. The diversity and depth of talent in Hawick Burns Club is much to be admired and we were entertained by wonderful singing, humorous poetry, recitations and piping. David Smith (our honourable Sec) was invited on to the stage to play the part of an errant bus driver in a brilliant humorous sketch expertly delivered in a broad Border twang by a member of the Hawick Burns Club! The hilarity of this can only be appreciated by viewing the video clip that Callum Watson recorded ‘live at Hawick Burns Club’. Well done David! David Miller and Calum contributed to the days entertainment with a song and some excellent piping. Reluctantly we had to bid our hosts adieu – a great day out was had by all. In deference to James Thomson (a Hawick Man) and the author of The Star o Rabbie I’ll close with a few lines……

Guid friends when by the fireside ye recline
reflect anon anither day is done
dark skies are but the canvas o the Lord
whaur brightly shines
the star o Rabbie Burns!

John Clark



Mixed Moss by a Rolling Stone

Mixed Moss by a Rolling Stone


It has been a long gap since the last posting so there is a lot to catch up with.  The AGM in May saw Godfrey Bedford shuffle of to the back seat but he was an excellent president with a light but sure touch and will be missed as the public face of the club. John Clark was elevated to the Chair and will bring his creative talents with him. Sadly, the AGM commenced with a minutes silence in memory of Frank Curran, whose sudden and shocking death affected us all.  I was later privileged to be asked to contribute an obit for Frank for the paper. Past President Bill Farrell received his personalised whisky bottle marking the 40th anniversary as president. He has a lot to answer for as it was he who introduced me to the Burns Howff Club all those years ago. The AGM was uneventful and office bearers and committee were duly elected.  A long overdue award of honorary membership was conferred on past president Marshall Laing.  Off to Coldstream  on 11th May for the annual ceremony at the bridge. President John placed the club’s floral tribute with great style. Visitation from New Cumnock Burns Club on Sunday 18th May. Lively and knowledgeable Burnsisans. Same day was the Haggis Reciting Competition at the Globe Inn when Murdo Morrison as organiser, conned me into acting as an adjudicator. Strangely, some folk thought it was a haggis tasting event and were disappointed but the winner was entertaining. The opening Excom meeting and soiree on 26th May was stimulating for matters raised and for fun afterwards. Agreed to produce a blended malt whisky, labelled to mark the 125th anniversary of the club in 1889. Disappointing response to date. The Cleaning Task Force scooted round St. Michaels Kirkyard in record time with a wash and rub up of the commemorative plaques. All were found this year.  The AGM of the SSCBA on 24th May witnessed the retirement as president of Jane Brown and the election of David Miller as successor and also Gordon Johnston as junior vice. Long serving Treasurer Betty Haining stood down and was replaced by Jane Brown to the obvious surprise of some delegates present. Complaints were made regarding the ongoing works at Burns Statue and the antics of some, believed to be from Dumfries Big Burns Supper, during the January commemorations.  Had the pleasure of attending a function at Cree Bridge Hotel on 30th May. Entitled, “The Bard & the Bottle”, it consisted of several malt whisky tastings and a presentation by the whisky sales rep, interspersed with songs and recitations. This included a bravura performance of “The Court of Equity” by Gordon Johnston, complete with wig and goonie. The meal was haggis, bashed neeps and tatties and was overdone by some. Visitation from Helensburgh Burns Club on 7th June when the ten cent tour was conducted in a downpour but that did not dampen the spirits of the visitors who were clearly delighted to be allowed access to Burns Mausoleum and the Globe Inn afterwards. Their president is Graham Hill who also happens to be on our Waiting List. The recce for the annual Treasure Hunt took place on 19th June when the “easy-to-find” clues were compiled by Messrs Miller Johnston and Smith within five town centre pubs and the routes thereto. Depressing how dilapidated the town centre is becoming. The June meeting of the RBWF was held at Alloway Church Hall on 14th June. Escorted Mrs Brown and Mrs MacMillan-Forster to the gathering accompanied by Mr. Miller.  Shocked at the revelation that the Fed is facing a financial deficit of over £20K, £7K of which was a loss from the 2013 conference in Glasgow. Plans are being put in place to address the situation but we will see. Members of the Heritage Committee had a site visit to the Burns Monument which is in a poor state of repair but the enhancements to the area around the “Auld Kirk” were impressive. Guid Nychburris Day was celebrated with glorious weather for once and President John Clark, accompanied by Mrs Clark, were in the official party which processed from the Municipal Chambers to the Midsteeple for the crowning ceremony for the “Queen of the South”. The 10th Jean Armour Dinner on 30th June was one of the best of its kind with excellent toasts from Joan MacAlpine MSP and Dr. Maureen Milton. Holly Little brought some class to the entertainment well supported by talented club members and the meal was, in my opinion, first class, even if the shortbread and coffee was served before the superior cheeseboard. Unfortunately, President John was ill and unable to attend but SVP Callum Watson rose magnificently to the occasion and made a genial chairman. Gordon Johnston gave a stirring oration at the statue.  One of my most satisfying projects recently was to help in the arrangements for the placement of a commemorative bench in memory of my old friend and club member, Ted Murray. Ted’s sister Ann ‘phoned seeking advice and I was able to liaise with the Council who agreed to locate a bench adjacent to the Jean Armour statue. Ann’s choice of a Burns Verse for the plaque was apt, “The Epitaph on my own friend, Wm. Muir” which includes the lines, “If there’s another world, he lives in bliss; if there is not, he made the best of this”. Ann was delighted that the club made a contribution towards the cost. Surprisingly, Dumfries Burns Club of which Ted was a past president, although invited, did not find it possible.  The Club Treasure Hunt on 3rd July attracted a poor attendance but three teams were formed and sent off clutching the clues and instructions to return by 9.00pm in good order. The winning team was the Globe Inn, aka “Inglorious Bestards” and received miniature club whiskies as their prizes. Pies and mushy peas were consumed with gusto.  One of the most enjoyable dates in the club calendar is the summer barbecue at Gordon and Betty’s seaside residence at Southerness.  Invitees gathered on 12th July and although the weather was inclement, the gazebo at the garage door kept folk dry and succulent choice cuts, prepared by Neil, was much enjoyed. The Johnston’s are generous hosts and the company did their best to get through the bar supplies.  On the following morning, a party set off in a luxury minibus to Hawick, to attend the annual ceremony at Wauchope. A splendid day and a memorable social hour afterwards at Hawick Burns Club when remarkable turns were performed.  A meeting of the Jean Armour Statue Project  Committee was called on 14th July to discuss the long delayed question of major donors’ names being inscribed on the reverse of the plinth. The agreed criteria was £1000.00 and above and a list was duly drawn up but since the meeting, questions have been asked as to eligibility and a decision has been postponed pending further inquiries. A major contribution to the town’s cultural life was the Burns pageant, “Love, Life & Liberty”, reprised this year and held over the weekend of 19th 20th July. Your reporter was recruited as a “Dumfries Volunteer”  to add to the street theatre and escort the audience from point to point round the streets during all three performances.  The professional cast was excellent, especially “Robert Burns” and “Jean Armour” supported by musicians and “extras”. The audience numbers were estimated at about 100 for each show which was seen as satisfactory. I spotted one club member in the audience on Saturday evening, otherwise local Burnsians were conspicuous by their absence.  The club umbrellas were put to good use.

A success story was the Brow Well Service on 21st July, moved from its traditional date to avoid the opening ceremony of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, live on TV. RBWF President Jane Brown delivered an outstanding oration and the company was welcomed by David Miller in his first appearance as president of the SSCBA. The Rev Moule prayed and Psalm 23 was intoned. The gathering was notable for the number of Burnsians from all over Scotland and overseas.  Mercifully, midges ware absent this year as was the smell of slurry and a tractor passed only once. The social gathering which followed at the Cairndale suffered from the usual Cairndale inefficiencies but the entertainment was enjoyable and well conducted by John Caskie MC and Gordon Johnston proposed Vote of Thanks as JVP.

The tunic of the RDV was again called into service on Friday 25th July for the 13th annual dinner of the Royal Dumfries Volunteers (resurrected) at the Globe Inn.  Chris Lyon, aka Col. De Peyster, presided with great dignity and an excellent meal was served by the Globe Inn staff. Luminaries included Chris Rollie, Jim Brown, Rab Wilson and Peter Kormylo as well as David Miller, Gordon McKerrow, Robert Richmond. Les Byers and Callum Watson.